Government can learn from local nonprofit groups

December was another busy-with-legislative-duties month as I traveled to various parts of the Senate district for constituent meetings to discuss current conditions and concerns residents face, especially those related to Colorado’s continued budgetary challenges.

On a trip to Montrose, I visited a woodshop run by Community Options Inc., a private, nonprofit with services for the developmentally disabled. Community Options also operates residential group homes in the area, and I toured two of those. The organization’s large service area in the Western Slope includes three counties in my district: Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties.

Community Options, like many nonprofits throughout the state, is facing difficult times with reductions in governmental funding, despite doing a lot with the resources it does have. As a result, the woodshop may not be able to continue past the winter months. Yet, it was clear to me that not only do the developmentally disabled employees find meaning in their daily job responsibilities, but they’re also providing useful products for their communities.

I often hear from people that government’s gotten too big. There’s truth to that, and faced with financial realities, we must cut state spending in many areas. We continue to face many difficult choices in Colorado, even as we hope 2012 will bring better economic times and greater job opportunities. All of this is hard to work through, but another challenge is whether local communities and those with resources more than most will help keep such enterprises as Community Options’ woodshop going. I certainly hope so.

Montrose also has a successful school-based health clinic at one of its elementary schools that I visited. School-based clinics also are located in the southern area of my district, in Cortez and Durango, and are one of the most effective ways to improve children’s health in today’s realities of working parents, need for primary-care providers and limited resources.

What is not limited, though, especially in Southwest Colorado, is the dedication and commitment of the people working in all of these areas who do incredible things that we in state government would do well to learn from. Before serving as a legislator, I served on a number of nonprofit boards, and it’s apparent that those in the nonprofit world know how to squeeze two dollars out of one, maximizing their resources with volunteers who contribute much more than just time to their efforts.

I see my job as state senator as including helping identify and reduce the mountains of paperwork and inefficiencies that state government sometimes requires of such nonprofits, which only burdens those running these programs while adding no real value to their operations or those they serve. This upcoming legislative session, I’ll be spending considerable time and effort with the state agencies that interact with these nonprofits to see what can be done to improve this aspect of state government.

For New Year’s weekend and our 29th anniversary, my husband and I cross country skied on Red Mountain Pass south of Ouray and hiked in the snow toward Bridal Veil Falls above Telluride – a perfect recharging of the personal batteries for me as I now head to Denver for the 2012 legislative session.

Best wishes to all for a great new year.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884 or by email at ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.